Scandal at Maple Valley – Episode 24: Don’t Stop Looking

Sheriff Pete couldn’t drag the phrase from his mind. “Don’t Stop Looking!” Vee Burthrap had told him. “What does that even mean?” he thought, walking toward the cafe.

After the horrible dream Pete had a few nights ago, he was hesitant about going back to the Ya’ll Sit, but he needed a cup of coffee and didn’t want to make it himself.

“Hi Pete!” Hannah called from behind the counter when the sheriff walked through the front door.

“Hello, Hannah!” the sheriff answered, feeling a shadow lift from his mind. “Is the coffee any good today?”

“Always good, always ready!” Shorty Cloverton said, walking out of the kitchen with a big tray of fresh cinnamon buns. “How about a C-bun to go with that coffee, Pete?”

“I think I’ll just have coffee,” Pete answered. He caught himself staring at the table by the door where he sat in the nightmare.

“Suit yourself, Sheriff, but these are warm and the icing is running off like a spring thaw.”

“Okay, okay, you convinced me. Bring one over here,” Pete said.

Shorty scooped a cinnamon bun from the tray and put it on a plate, making sure to slather it with extra icing. “Shame about Vee Burthrap, isn’t it?” Shorty said, putting the plate on the table and pouring Pete a warm-up.

“What are you talking about?” the sheriff asked.

“Vee Burthrap was taken to the hospital last night. Her sister called the ambulance because Vee was acting strange.”

“Why wasn’t I called?” Pete asked. “I didn’t know anything about this.”

“I don’t know, Pete. I only know Ver called an ambulance and Vee is in the hospital,” Shorty answered.

Pete had a strange feeling. He wondered whether this had anything to do with Vee’s idea about the letters, DSL. “This is stupid!” Pete thought. “It’s a coincidence and nothing more.” Pete finished his breakfast and headed for the hospital.

“Don’t stop looking. Don’t stop looking for what?” Pete thought as he drove. “If it does mean ‘don’t stop looking’ for Sylvia, who wrote it? Who cut the letters into the bridge? Is Sylvia still alive? Is the person who took her toying with us?”

When the sheriff arrived at the hospital, he stepped from his car and heard a person yelling.

“Don’t stop looking!!” someone hollered.

Pete turned to see where the voice was coming from. He saw a woman in a back yard calling toward a boy who was running.

“Don’t stop looking!” she hollered louder. “You find your bicycle before you come back! Don’t stop looking!”

Pete felt stunned. “This can’t be real! What is happening to me!” he thought as he continued watching the woman yelling at her son.

The sheriff walked into the hospital and approached the front desk. A doctor stepped through a door and called back toward the hall. “Don’t stop looking for that file! I need it to see it before we can proceed,” he said to someone Pete couldn’t see.

The receptionist said, “Vee Burthrap is in room 214. Take the hall to the left and the elevator or the stairs to the second floor and turn right.”

Sheriff Pete thanked her and walked toward the elevator. The doors opened just as he reached it. Three people were inside, deep in conversation. “I told her, ‘don’t stop looking, you’ll find it if you don’t stop looking.’ I hope she took my advice,” one woman said to another. Pete stared at them and they stepped wide of him as they left the elevator.

He found room 214 and Pete knocked on the door. Hearing no answer, he knocked again.

“Don’t stop looking! Don’t stop looking!” came a woman’s voice from inside the room. Pete pushed through the door.

Vee Burthrap seemed to be sound asleep. “Don’t stop looking!” she moaned again and again.

“Vee, Vee…” Pete said as he gently shook her arm.

Vee’s sightless eyes were wide open, looking far beyond Pete Terkinberry. With a loud voice she again said, “Don’t stop looking! Don’t stop looking!”

The sheriff recalled the feeling he had the night he opened Sylvia Meisner’s house to Miss Wonderment, the so-called psychic. What crawled over him now was far worse.

He more firmly grasped Vee’s arm and shook, “Vee!”

Vee Burthrap sat straight up in the bed and screamed. Pete jumped back and tripped over the bedside table sending a lunch tray crashing to the floor. Pete landed on top of the mashed potatoes and gravy.

“Sheriff! What are you doing here?” Vee asked.

Pete wiped the mess from his pants as he stood up. “Vee, I just found out you were in the hospital and I came to check on you. What were you dreaming about?” he asked.

“I wasn’t dreaming about anything, why?”

“You kept saying, ‘Don’t stop looking,'” Pete answered.

“Why would I say that? Don’t stop looking for what?”

“More like ‘who?’ you mean.”

Garage Go-Karts and Revivals

Mobil Oil moved us to Saginaw. We left Freddie, Gary, Mary Janeane and the beautiful Lundeed girls in Redford. Turd was a distant memory.

Why it took twenty-four hours for the Mayflower truck to go seventy miles was a mystery. We spent the night at the Ron & Rick Motel on Hess Street. We swam in the pool and I watched two boys drive a go-kart around the yard. I assumed they were Ron and Rick.

I was nervous and jealous about school starting the next day. My older brother didn’t have to go for another week because the brand new Mackinaw Middle School wasn’t finished.

Countryside Park Subdivision, right across the street from my Weiss Elementary, was brand new. Very few houses had trees, our new home didn’t even have grass.

The two-story cape cod was the biggest house I had ever seen. Four bedrooms, two bathrooms, living room, kitchen-dining room, and a huge basement. The small garage was the site of projects, productions, and mischief.

I grew up with lots of neighborhood kids. Sometimes we were close confidants. Sometimes sworn enemies.

Every neighborhood has a focus house, the one where every kid wants to live. All the funnest stuff starts at that house. The cool kids from other neighborhoods come there. The kids next door were the luckiest. There’s was the focus house. Their built-in swimming pool guaranteed it.

Claiming cool is an important part of neighborhood kid life. Clubs are the way to include members, exclude nons. Clubs define cool.

Our garage was the headquarters of my three member go-kart club. Our plan was to build a go-kart to rule the streets. The enemy club was next door. Their go-kart might have wheels, but it couldn’t compare with ours. For secrecy, I covered the garage windows with construction paper.

When the kart was finished, it weighed two hundred pounds. The chassis was 2 x 6 boards. The frame was 2 x 3’s. The body was plywood. Behind the seat was a trunk with a hinged cover. The back wheels were from an old wagon, the front from a baby stroller. The axles were nails. The steering was a rope tied to both ends of a 2 x 4 held in place with a bolt and washers.

The day of the big race finally came. The enemy club rolled out their go-kart. We pushed our pastel blue square hot rod out into the street.

Our teams lined the karts up evenly. We jeered and taunted, dared and insulted.

“On your mark! Get set! Go!!”

Enemy club members cheered and pushed the karts.

After ten feet, my left front wheel collapsed. The four nails folded like chewed Bazooka Bubble Gum. I pulled hard on the left rope and slammed into the side of the enemy club kart. Race over. Accusations and more insults. No cussing though. We weren’t allowed to cuss in the neighboord.

Our club kart sat beside the garage until the weather took the final toll.

The garage was a great kid theatre. We created a show to present so we could raise money for our next adventure. We hung a sheet for a stage curtain and put colored paper around a heat lamp for a spot light.

After several rehearsals, we opened the doors and welcomed the public. We were excited to see all nine chairs filled.

Our spot light nearly caught fire when the heatlamp turned the paper to cinders. No problem. Every show has its challenges.

The highlight was my rendition of “Wipe Out” I played on my electric Decca guitar I bought at Yankee’s for $24.00. Our drum kit was a table turned upside down with coffee cans on the legs for cymbals.

Our final number was “Michael Row the Boat Ashore.” My sister started crying because she thought we were going to have an altar call.


Ashton Avenue, Detroit, Michigan. That’s the first place I remember. Ashton was a frontage road adjacent to what is now the Southfield Freeway. It was a dead-end street and railroad tracks crossed where pavement ended.

We played in the field behind our yard. There was a building that hid the fort we made in the bushes behind it. We beat a path through the weeds leading to our hide-out.

I asked one of the neighbor kids if he could see the Bosco mustache on my lip.

Mark Rickowski lived across the street. His mom babysat for me a time or two. Mark was the same age as my older brother.

The Belois boys lived down the road. The Behrcamp boy lived next to them.

Jimmy Bush was my friend. He had a brother who reminded me of Popeye. Jimmy had a little toy vacuum cleaner with a hose.

Jimmy Bush and I were playing gas station when I put my thumb on the chain of his bike and he pushed the pedal forward. The chain moved, taking my thumb with it. The sprocket tooth went through my right thumbnail. The lunula still shows something horrible happened to it a long time ago.

We moved from Ashton to Lucerne Avenue in Redford Township in the middle of kindergarten. My new class had a rabbit. I told the class my brother had a trainset. I said there was a car with a little man that came out and put a box down and went back in the car. I lied. He didn’t actually put the box down.

Hughey Burns lived next door. One time he knocked on our door with his mother. His face was all scratched up. He was running down the sidewalk pushing a toy car when the car hit a stone and stopped. His face didn’t.

The Lundeen girls lived down the block on our dirt road. They were beautiful. Mary Janeane said, “If you play with me I’ll marriage you.” I played with her. The girls swam in our pool.

Mary Janeane and I were playing “horse and buggy.” She was the horse, I was in the buggy (our red wagon). I was throwing stones in front of her to chase and one hit her in the back of the head. Her head started bleeding. Mary Janeane ran home crying and pretty soon her angry mom was walking toward me on the sidewalk.

Mrs. Lundeen said, “I’m going to tell your parents!”

I said, “No! I’ll tell them!”

For some reason, she believed me and went home. I didn’t tell my parents.

Freddie Pearl lived across the street. He had an electric army tank that moved through our flowers and left tracks in the dirt.

One time my dad had small gliders from a sales promotion for Mobil Oil Company. We went through the neighborhood selling airplanes to kids. Freddie helped us. He kept the money. Freddie was the first one I ever heard say the word, “turd.” We were never allowed to say turd.

Gary Davidson lived across the street, two houses away from Freddie Pearl. He was the tallest boy I had ever seen. He stood on the side of our pool and jumped in and almost all the water splashed out. Gary had a little gas engine race car that made a lot of noise and was really fast.

My girlfriend in first grade was Judy Zimmerman. She didn’t know she was my girlfriend. We played “robot” on the playground with some other kids. I was controlling Judy the robot. I told her to kiss me on the cheek. She did.

I had a party in our basement for my friends. I asked Judy Zimmerman to come. She was there.

Bobby Preston had a three corner hat. All the boys on the playground followed him around. I was sure Judy Zimmerman liked him.

I think Mark Rickowski retired as a bank president. He travels frequently but spends most of his time with his lovely wife in Paris.

The Belois boys probably moved to Montana and own a very successful hunting lodge. One is a pilot and offers fly-in fishing opportunities to people who can afford it. One stays in the huge kitchen and feeds all of the guests three meals every day. The other Belois boy counts the money.

The Behrcamp boy finally made it into Amshover College after several tries. His application was rejected twice on the basis of spelling errors. He graduated with high honors. He works for a professional baseball team in Japan.

Jimmy Bush and his brother opened a vacuum cleaner store in Detroit. After fifteen years in business, they sold the company for an incredible amount of money and moved their families to Kitmanton, Minnesota, where they planned to start a school for entrepreneurs.

Hughey Burns graduated from medical school at the top of his class. After completing his surgical residency at Machinzey General Hospital in Wingley, Utah, he opened a private plastic surgery practice in Upcal, Germany.

Freddie Pearle owns eleven laundramats. He has made a comfortable living for his family.

Gary Davidson signed a letter of intent at the age of 12 to play basketball at Purbtockwin University in upstate New York. During his senior year of high school he decided to pursue his interest in art. He paints wildlife in their natural habitat. He focuses mainly on caribou.

Judy Zimmerman married Bobby Preston. They have twelve children, seventeen grandchildren, and five great-grandchildren. Bobby still wears his tattered three-corner hat.

Mary Janeane never married. She joined the Sisterhood of Saint Elizabeth at the age of eighteen. She has given all of her adult years to helping children. Her first step toward fulfilling her vows was to forgive me for hitting her in the back of the head with a stone. She didn’t falter.

The Lundeen girls are still beautiful.

Scratch-Built Paned Windows in HO Scale

In a previous post, I wrote about scratch-building small cabins with balsa wood. By trial and error, sometimes resulting in more error than success, I filled in the window frames without actually making windows. I simply framed the space and added some trim.

I decided to try my hand at building paned windows that I could make in advance and pop them in place as I’m building new structures.

HO window template covered with wax paper

I first drew a template I could use repeatedly. A fellow modeler suggested covering templates with wax paper to prevent glued pieces from sticking to the template. Brilliant! (I then remembered my uncle building a plane from balsa and using wax paper to protect the template.)

I measured the windows on several of my plastic structures and many of them are about the same size, 3 x 5 on the HO scale ruler. I drew pane lines evenly across the window space.

I cut strips of thin balsa about 3mm wide and glued them together on the template. I use very small balsa material for the panes. I first painted the balsa and stood the pieces in a jar for drying. I cut the pane material just wider than the frame width and length. I glued the horizontal pieces to the frame, then put a spot of glue on the panes and the frame to hold the veritcal piece in place.

Three balsa HO scale windows

I think these windows look pretty good for a first attempt. They might still be a little large for HO scale, but not by much.

Scratch built HO scale balsa windows with trimming finished.

My first idea was to use two layers of framing and glue the pane material between them. That didn’t work well. The frames were too thick. After the glue has dried, I cut the trim back leaving a more realistic appearance.

Two balsa walls with HO scale windows installed.

After framing the walls, I drop the finished windows in place, gluing them to the studs. I then finish the walls by adding siding. Once the four walls are completed, I trim the edges for a smooth fit and glue them together.

Small HO scale cabin with windows ready for roofing.

I’m hooked on making these little cabins. I’m getting better at framing more quickly, and I build a few at a time. On recent models, I included the gables with the wall framing, making roofing easier. I don’t enjoy making roof trusses.

HO scale balsa four walls for layout store.

This frame is going to be a retail space on the Maple Valley Short Line Railroad. The large window and double door looks great. It may become the Ya’ll Sit Cafe in Maple Valley, owned by Shorty and Hannah Cloverton. (They’re the ones – among several others – who were sued for the unfortunate demise of Mrs. Madeline Overweist after a bat landed on her face outside the cafe.) The BAT Strategic Health Investigation Team is still working on the problem.

HO scale pencil template for balsa structure.

This is a template I recently finished for a larger scratch built structure. The building will be a two-story model with a first-floor extra room and a shed attachment. The numbers on the template correspond with measurements on the HO scale ruler.

Scratch building is a lot of fun. I have always enjoyed the scenery-building process of model railroading almost as much as running trains.

I am really looking forward to finding out what happened with the lawsuit brought against several prominent members of the Maple Valley town council. The lawfirm of Skellson & Skellson served Shorty Cloverton with the suit at the Ya’ll Sit Cafe a few days before Christmas.

One thing is certain. The Scandal at Maple Valley is not over. Not by a long shot.

Remembering My Friend Mike

I first met Mike when we were sophomores in high school. I played cornet in the school band, Mike played the sousaphone. Although we didn’t become close friends until our senior year, Mike was hard to miss. Tall, dark hair, rosy cheeks, well-equipped to carry a tuba, and Mike had an infectious laugh that made everyone smile.

Our paths crossed, in a life-changing way, in January, 1971. Our high school drama department announced the spring musical, “Annie Get Your Gun”. I loved going to the plays, but had never been in one myself. I had no desire to act or get involved. In Drama class, however, I became acquainted with a lot of students I hadn’t known before, and got a tiny bit of exposure to the stage.

I don’t remember how I got roped into playing the piano for the auditions. It was so unlike me. Hiding was more in line with my inner self. I thought I was better on the piano than I actually was, and sight-reading was not my forte. I remember trying to play “Eleanor Ribgy”, for a girl attempting to impress the the directors. When I plastered the song I had never heard of, she said, “You’re terrible!”

When the auditions were over and almost everyone was gone, the music director said to me, “Are you going to sing something?” I said, “No.” He said, “Come on, just try it.”

I literally felt like I had a finger stuck in my back, pushing me. I gave in. The director handed me “Climb Every Mountain.” As I sang, he walked to the back of the choir room and listened. As I finished, “….’til you find your dream!”, one of the student directors said, “Sounds like Frank Butler to me!” I didn’t know who that was.

The next night I went to the acting tryouts. I knew I didn’t have a chance, I was just following the encouragement of the director. I read lines as I was paired with various other students several times.

The day came when the characters for the musical were announced. I walked into the Drama classroom after school. Several students were gathered around the bulletin board and a girl named Mary, said, “You got it!” I knew who she was, I saw her in several other plays. I didn’t think she knew who I was.

I looked at the actors’ list and read, “Frank Butler – Dale Parsons. Dolly Tate – Mary Wagner. Sitting Bull – Mike Lynch,” and many other names of those who would quickly become friends.

Mike and I soon began spending time together. He said, “I knew I was going to be ‘Sitting Bull!’ There was a part in the musical when Frank Butler joins the wild west show headlined by Annie Oakley. Mike was supposed to walk up to me in all of his chiefly attire, face to face, and gruffly say, “You in show too?” We busted out laughing every time he did it.

I treasured the time I spent with Mike, as we had a great deal in common. He and I both believed we were called to ministry. He planned to become a priest in the Catholic Church, I planned to become a minister in the Protestant Church. We often read Scripture and prayed together after play practice.

Before meeting Mike, my repertoire of music enjoyment was all churchy. Our car radio was glued to a local religious station owned by the church I attended. That’s not a bad thing, I just rarely listened to secular music. Mike introduced me to “Chicago.” Oh my gosh! I loved it! What a sound! “25 or 6 to 4!”

The topic of girls came up in many of our conversations. As rehearsals for the musical continued, there were two girls I was thinking about asking for a date. One was in the play, one was not.

One night after play practice, Mike and I talked about the two girls and he said I should draw straws to decide which girl to ask, so I did. One straw for Marcia, one straw for Mary. I pulled out Marcia’s. I said, “I’m gonna ask Mary out.”

Mary and I went on our first date on Friday, March 5th. We will celebrate our 50th wedding anniversary next year.

“Annie Get Your Gun” was an incredible success. Three nights of performances, standing ovations, surrounded by new friends, and in the final scene standing next to “Dolly Tate”. We’re still standing together after all these years.

During the summer of ’71, Mike and I continued our friendship. He actually came over and helped me work on painting our old barn, a job I never finished. We talked, laughed, cried, and dreamed.

Sadly, after Mike and I went to college, we lost touch. I didn’t write as often as I should have and the communication finally stopped.

Last Sunday night was our oldest grandson’s baccalaureate in preparation for high school graduation. As we sat waiting for the ceremony to begin, my wife noticed the name of the first guest speaker, “Pete Lynch, Catholic Deacon Saints Peter & Paul Catholic Church.” She said, “I think that’s Mike’s brother!” I didn’t think it was possible.

As Pete was sharing his inspiring message of faith in Christ, he said, “I remember when I graduated from high school in 1975. My brother gave me a Bible.” Mary said, “I think that’s him! You have to talk to him!” Pete said it wasn’t until years later he began reading the Bible and followed God’s plan for his life.

After the ceremony, I walked up to Pete and said, “Did you graduate from Lapeer High School?” He said, “Yes.” I said, “Did Mike give you that Bible?” His eyes widened and he said, “Yes! Who are you?” I said, “Dale Parsons.”

We laughed and hugged. I introduced him, again, to my wife, Mary. He remembered us. In fact, he said, “My sister and I were just talking about you a few months ago.” Pete has that same bright smile and laugh I remember in his big brother.

I asked about Mike. He said, “Mike passed away with cancer six years ago. He had several bad bouts with cancer.” I told Pete I hadn’t heard, and was sorry to hear that he was gone.

Deacon Pete and I exchanged phone numbers. We’ll get together for coffee and talk about life, family, and ministry. We’ll also talk about Mike.

I’m sorry I didn’t continue writing to Mike. I last saw him fifty-one years ago. I’ll always be thankful for him. I can see his face and I hear his laugh. I see the straws in his hand, and I see the one I pulled out. I’m so thankful I broke the rules.

I’ll see Mike again some day. We’ll get reacquainted. I know what he’ll say when he sees me.

“You in show too?”

Scandal at Maple Valley – Episode 23

Sheriff Pete walked into the Ya’ll Sit Cafe on Monday morning, just like he does every week. Something felt different. He didn’t know what it was, but he had the eerie sense he should sit by the door instead of taking his usual seat at the counter.

“Good morning, Hannah!” he said.

Hannah Cloverton looked up but said nothing.

Pete noticed a few people turned to look at him. He knew them and nodded. Nothing.

He picked up a copy of the Maple Valleyan and was surprised to see his name on the front page. “Questions Swirl Around Sheriff Terkinberry” the headline read in bold letters. “What is this?!” he almost said outloud.

Hannah startled him and Pete dropped the paper face down. “Do you want to order, Sheriff Terkinberry?” Hannah asked.

Pete saw a stranger in his friend’s eyes. “Hannah, you haven’t ever called me ‘Sheriff Terkinberry’. What’s going on?”

“Would you like to order now?” she asked.

“Yes, Hannah, I’ll have the same thing I’ve had every Monday morning since the first time I came in for breakfast twelve years ago.”

“What would that be, Sheriff?” Hannah Cloverton asked.

“Hannah, what is going on? Are you okay? Is something wrong?” Pete asked.

“No, sir, why do you ask?”

“Why do I ask? Are you kidding me? You just called me ‘Sir’!”

“Sheriff Terkinberry, would you like something to eat, or not?”

“Yes. I’ll have two scrambled eggs with onion, bacon, hashbrowns, toast, and coffee. Please,” Pete said, perturbed.

Hannah wrote the order down as if she hadn’t heard it a hundred times before and might forget. She left without saying anything more and returned to the kitchen.

Pete picked up the paper once again and started reading.

“Questions regarding the behavior of Sheriff Pete Terkinberry have residents of Maple Valley concerned. A confidential source told this reporter, ‘Sheriff Pete Terkinberry allows people to see him in his boxer shorts.’ This reporter asked, point blank, ‘How confident are you that Terkinberry wears boxers? Could you be mistaken?’ My source responded, ‘I don’t make mistakes like this.’

“Outrage has swept across this town. With tourist season just a few weeks away, shock, dismay, and horror are words that have been spoken in the wake of this devastating news.

“Questions roar in everyone’s mind. Will Sheriff Pete Terkinberry resign? Will he be removed from office? Will the town council act quickly enough to repair the tattered remains of this battered community.

“This reporter has been on the front lines of news for several months. I can tell you, without equivocation, this has shaken Maple Valley to its core.

“I’m on the scene for you. Derk Quimberz, reporter, The Maple Valleyan.”

Someone grabbed Pete Terkinberry’s shoulder and shook him. “Pete!! Pete!!”

Pete opened his eyes and was surprised to see his own bedroom, with Alvin Thrashborn standing over him.

“Are you alright?! You were yelling about someone named Derk Quimberz! Who is that?!” Alvin asked.

“What are you doing here?!” Pete yelled.

“Don’t you remember? We were supposed to go fishing this morning. I banged on the door but you didn’t answer, then I heard you yelling, so I came in. Your door was unlocked.” Alvin said.

“It’s always unlocked.” Pete said, sitting on the edge of his bed, trying to find his way through the fog.

“Get up, we have an appointment with several big bass,” Alvin said, walking out of the room.

“Who is Derk Quimberz?!” Alvin yelled from the kitchen.

“I don’t know! Some reporter who doesn’t like boxer shorts!”

A Coffee State of Sixty-Nine

I was absolutely sure Jesus would come back before 1969. Everything I learned from my classmates of all sixty-nine meant assured the return of Christ before humanity had to endure the shame of entering that awful year on the calendar.

I am twenty years older than my mother was when she died of cancer. I am seven years older than my father was when he died of cancer.

I don’t feel old. Sometimes.

I look in the mirror and the one I see is different than me. That guy has wrinkles. Lots of wrinkles. His ears are almost flappy. Two people left their skin under his chin. He has a few strands of white on top, more on the sides. There’s a scar on his head. Skin cancer removed. One eye is more squinty than the other. Now a drooping eyelid makes it smaller.

His eyebrows have taken on a life of their own. “Reach for the stars!” is their motto.

The hair that was once on his head now lives in his ears.

A broad chest now rests on his belt.

He looks different, but I feel the same. Mostly.

Hello 69.

Treasures from a Model Railroad Swap-Meet

Packages of styrene, balsa strips, plastic windows, and metal junk.

Everyone in model railroading, from those just getting started with the first circle of track to those seasoned folks with several layouts under their belts know how easy it is to quickly spend a lot of money.

Swap meets can be a model railroader’s best friend.

I love going to model railroad swap meets. It can be overwhelming with so much to see and choices to make. The good meets have rows and rows of tables with a wide variety of gauges from N scale to G and everything in between.

Just because it’s a swap meet does not mean prices are going to be rock bottom. You have to patiently search to find those great deals. There are many displays with folks who regularly do train shows. Some prices are no different than can be found in local hobby shops.

Yesterday, I attended the Railroad Days Train Show in Durand, Michigan. This is an annual event, but this was the first time for me, so I didn’t know what to expect. The show was held at the Durand Middle School. I couldn’t believe the number of cars in the parking lot!

We paid the five dollar entrance fee and started hunting. I already have plenty of locomotives and rolling stock. (I know that sounds like blasphemy, but my shelf-style 21 x 4 feet layout just won’t realistically hold any more.) I have more buildings than I can use. What I need most is junk. It’s the stuff lying around that makes scenes look realistic. Old tires, rusted bicycles, piles of broken pallets, window frames, and paint cans. Junk.

Box containing many random items from model railroad swap meet.

As I was about to enter the second large room of vendors, I spotted the treasure I was looking for. A box of junk for $5.00. I couldn’t believe it! I could see right away this was the find of the day. I thought it would be rude to dig through it, so I handed the owner a five dollar bill and thanked him before he could change his mind.

The first chance I had, I carefully searched through the items and everything convinced me I had struck gold!

I don’t run long passenger cars on my layout, so the four packages of car diaphragms will probably not be used, at least not for their intended purpose. Piled against the side of a building they will look terrific. I’ll improvise a spot for the elevated conveyor system. The little caboose-shed will look great with a little bit of weathering.

The small stationary crane is fantastic! Hidden down in the box were eleven small sheds including two outhouses! Scenery treasures!

A sandwich bag was packed with wheels, trucks, couplers and other junk. Some of the trucks are spring loaded. This load of stuff will be perfect for the engine house yard.

I have been making my own windows for the cabins I’m scratch-building. I found several packages of HO scale windows!

The barrels, tanks, and other items are metal. Just the stack of barrels is $12 at the hobby shop! The box of stuff got better with each item I pulled out.

One of the things I was looking for at the model railroad swap meet was vintage automobiles and trucks. I’m modeling the 50’s era, so finding the right vehicles at a good price requires some diligent searching. Once again, I uncovered a treasure!

Six metal and plastic HO scale cars and trucks.

I was a little kid on Christmas morning! A ’56 Ford T-Bird, a ’59 Chevy El Camino, a 40’s delivery truck, a ’57 Chevy Bel-Air, a 40’s Buick police car, and a ’55 Chevy Bel-Air Sport Coupe. The T-Bird, El Camino, and the ’55 Bel-Air are metal. Beautiful! (These were not in the junk box. The vehicles were purchased from a retired middle school teacher/assistant principal. It was great fun talking with him and he gave me a fantastic deal!)

The police car is especially important. Pete Terkinberry, the Sheriff of Kertok County, who lives in Maple Valley, has been using his own car for county duties. The police car was purchased from the Chicago Police Department when they ordered all new vehicles. Sheriff Terkinberry is looking forward to using a real police car to patrol Maple Valley and the surrounding area. The Maple Valley town council voted unanimously to purchase the used patrol car. They also approved the purchase of plane tickets for Sheriff Terkinberry and Mayor Alvin Thrashborn to fly to Chicago to retrieve the car and drive it back to Maple Valley.

Maple Valley Railroad box car and HO scale automobile

Probably the discovery that was the most fun was this Maple Valley box car. My layout is the Maple Valley Short Line Model Railroad.

I plan to make Durand Railroad Days and the Model Railroad Swap Meet an annual event on my calendar!

Scandal at Maple Valley – Episode 22

Three Tower Bridge with track deck and timbers holding the bridge in place.

Poor Sylvia Meisner. Sylvia disappeared from Maple Valley almost a year ago. Poor Sylvia Meisner. She has missed so much in her little home town. Folks still talk about her. There are a few who believe they know what happened to her. Most don’t pay any attention to them, which makes the believers even more sure they know the truth.

After Vee Burthrap left Sheriff Terkinberry’s kitchen, she wandered around town as if in a daze. She bumped into Quintin O’Dillmotte and didn’t even say excuse me, which upset Quintin. He decided to give Pete a call and tell him about Vee’s rudeness.


“Yes, this is Pete, Quintin. What can I do for you?” Quintin O’Dillmotte has an odd voice. Everyone knows who it is when he calls. His voice sounds like a mixture of gravel and explosive diarrhea.

“I want to report an assault,” O’Dillmotte said loudly.

“What assault? What are you talking about, Quintin?”

“I was assaulted by Vee Burthrap over on First Street?”

“Vee Burthrap never hurt a fly in her life. What happened?” Sheriff Pete asked.

“I was walking along, heading back to the funeral home from Ya’ll Sit, after I ate my muffin and finished my coffee.”

“And?” Pete asked.

“And what?”

“Quintin! You said you were assaulted by Vee Burthrap. What happened?!” the Sheriff shouted.

“Oh! Right! Well, I was walking along, and all of a sudden someone ran into me. It was Vee Burthrap! She just ran into me and kept right on going. She didn’t stop, didn’t say excuse me, didn’t look at me. I was assaulted and I want something done about it.”

“Did she hit, push, shove, kick, or knock you down?” the sheriff asked.

“No, but she bumped into me really hard.”

Pete thought about the conversation he had with Vee in his kitchen when she insisted she knew what the letters D-S-L meant. “Don’t stop looking!” she shouted.

“Quintin, what time was this?”

“It was about ten minutes ago,” he answered.

“I think I know what happened,” Pete said. “Vee was at my house this morning.”

“What? Why was she at your house,” O’Dillmotte asked in a hush, as if he was about to hear a wonderful tidbit of forbidden gossip.

“She thinks she knows what D-S-L means. She came running in my back door without knocking and I was standing in the kitchen in my boxer shorts. She was hollering “Don’t stop looking! Don’t stop looking!”

“Don’t stop looking for what?” Quintin asked.

“Don’t stop looking for Sylvia!” Pete yelled.

“Oh! Oh! Don’t stop looking for Sylvia. Oh. She saw you in your boxers?”

“Yes, Quintin, she saw me in my boxers, but I’m not sure she noticed.”

“Why wouldn’t she notice? Has she seen your boxers before?”

“Quintin!! Of course not!” Pete yelled into the phone. “Let’s get back to the reason you called!”

“Oh, right. She assaulted me.”

“Quintin, Vee Burthrap did not assault you. She ran into you because she was thinking about her conversation with me and not watching where she was going. Does that sound about right?”

“Why wasn’t she looking where she was going?” Quintin asked.

“I think she was upset about talking to me,” Pete answered.

“Was it because of your boxer shorts?”

“Quintin, I have things to do. Are you finished?” the sheriff asked, exasperated.

“I just think it’s strange she saw you in your boxers,” Quintin said. “Don’t you?”

“Quintin, I’m going to say this slowly. You called me to report an assault. You said you were assaulted by Vee Burthrap.”

“I was.”

“No, you weren’t. She bumped into you. You were upset because she didn’t apologize, she didn’t stop and make sure you were alright. I’m quite sure she was thinking about Sylvia and about talking with me. Oh, and another thing, Quintin,” the sheriff continued. “I’m upset with you about telling Vee about the cookies we received before Christmas.”

“What cookies?” Quintin asked.

“Quintin, are you feeling alright? You sound like you’re sleeping. The cookies several of us recieved with the letters D-S-L on top. Remember?!”

“Oh, those cookies. Yes. I remember,” he answered.

“Do you remember me telling all of you not to tell anyone about it because I thought it would give us an advantage if people were talking about it even though we didn’t tell anyone?”

“Uh, I guess so,” Quintin answered.

“So, why did you tell Vee Burthrap?” Pete asked.

“I didn’t tell her,” O’Dillmotte said.

“You didn’t tell her about the cookies with the letters on top? She said you told her,” the sheriff said.

“Oh, I guess I did.”

“Right. Case dismissed, Quintin. Maybe you ran into Vee. Were you reading the newspaper while you were walking?” Pete asked.

“Yes. I always do. You know that,” Quintin answered.

“Goodbye, Quintin.”

“Bye, Pete.”

Quintin O’Dillmottee decided to walk back up to the Ya’ll Sit for another cup of coffee. He was exhausted after talking with the sheriff.

“Good morning, Alvin!” Quintin said when he saw the mayor walking.

“Quintin, how are you?”

O’Dillmotte and Alvin Thrashborn stood along First Street.

“Listen, Alvin, did you know Vee Burthrap saw Pete in his boxer shorts?”

Using Balsa Wood to Scratch Build Structures for Model Railroads

Lap desk, cutting board, protractor, scale ruler, and balsa pieces.

My Maple Valley Short Line Model Railroad is looking really good, if I do say so myself. In previous posts I wrote about making printed buildings with cardstock and balsa. I have many of them. I decided to try scratch building.

The first thing required is a dedicated work space. Mine is a lap-desk and a piece of foam where I can measure, draw, cut, pin, and glue while binge-watching “The Mentalist.”

I used my scale ruler to measure some of the structures on my model railroad to be sure my plans for new buildings are accurate. I use the ruler and a protractor to draw pencil outlines on cardstock.

I like all the printed buildings I have, but they don’t look as convincing in mountainous areas surrounded by pine trees. I need small rustic cabins.

On the HO scale ruler, 3.5 mm equals one foot, so the 10 mark on the ruler is approximately ten feet. I cut the stud pieces at 9 so that when glued to the top and bottom plates, the wall is a scale 10 feet. I cut all the balsa pieces first.

Balsa wood is very light and easy to work with. Art supply stores and hobby shops have great supplies of balsa wood in many different sizes, making it easy to create terrific structures.

I pin the wall plates to the drawing on edge, then glue the first and last studs to the plates and allow them to dry. Placing pins on an angle from both sides of the scale 2 x 4 holds it in place.

Two wall frames and two wall outlines in pencil drawn on cardstock.

This cabin has longer walls so I glued a middle stud in place to be sure the plates stay true while the glue is drying.

Four wall frames and two trusses, pinned and glued.

When the outer frames are dry, I then begin gluing the remaining studs in place. I make my windows 3 x 5, doors are 3 x 7 on the HO scale ruler. When all the studs are dry, I glue the window and door upper and lower frames in place.

My roof trusses are a “trial-and-error” exercize. After gluing trusses on a small cabin frame, I decided it looked goofy so I cut the roof off and started over. A lower pitch looks better on a small structure.

I decided to try using overlap siding because I like the way it looks. I cut strips from very thin balsa sheets. Starting at the bottom of the wall, I glued each one in place, overlapping the next piece above it. To frame the windows, I glued short pieces from the wall ends and between the windows. I left a small edge of the frame to allow window trim to be added later.

To create finished corners, on opposite walls the siding pieces are 3mm longer at each end. This also allows for much stronger gluing surfaces.

Two sizes of balsa cabins showing inside stud assemblies.

These are my first two attempts at making scratch-built balsa cabins. I really like the way the walls look on the inside. The siding looks great, but doing the overlap is a lot of work. These will look terrific nestled into the pines on my model railroad.

This is the small cabin with the second roof attempt. The lower pitch is much better. I used the same process to make roof trusses as with the walls. I measured, drew the outline on card stock, cut the pieces with the appropriate angles for the pitch, then pinned and glued the scale 2 x 4s in place.

Obviously, the glued pieces are stuck to the cardstock after the glue dries. I use an X-acto knife to carefully cut the balsa pieces away from the cardstock.

Scratch building is a learning curve. On this cabin I used flat siding. It was much easier to frame the windows and allow plenty of space for trim pieces. I started these walls by placing a vertical board on the ends and then measured between them for the siding.

I cut the gables out of balsa flat stock then made grooves indicating wood slats using a small piece of basswood.

Sharp 1:87 scale workshop painted dull gray inside and out, ready for roofing.

This will be a workshop in Maple Valley. I used vertical slat siding glued to the balsa wall frames. After gluing the three solid walls together, I added the roof support beams and the front post with the angle pieces.

Trimming the windows was actually easier than it looks. I painted very small pieces of balsa with white acrylic. I put a little glue along the window frame, then held the painted strip in place and cut the end off. For the window pane I cut a piece of balsa and glued it on the inside of the window frame.

As my work continues on the Maple Valley Short Line Model Railroad, I am convinced more scratch built cabins will be perfect for blending in among the pines. These little cabins are sturdy and good looking. I have a little more painting to do, and I have several more structures under construction on my laptop workbench.

I don’t consider myself a master modeler by any stretch. Learning is the key to model railroading that provides years of enjoyment. Before the days of the internet, modelers had to rely on hobby magazines, and there are still many good ones. Today, with YouTube and innumerable websites, model railroaders of all scales can find help with any project.

Why go to all the trouble of scratch building? There is something very satisfying about making my own buildings, one small piece of balsa at a time.